Attorney General To Weigh In On Emergency Medicaid Contracts

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana's attorney general said Wednesday that his office is researching whether the governor's administration has the legal authority to enact $15.4 billion in Medicaid contracts through an emergency process.

Sixteen Republican state senators asked Attorney General Jeff Landry to determine whether Gov. John Bel Edwards can use emergency provisions to keep five managed-care companies operating services for 1.5 million Medicaid patients.

Landry said his attorneys are working on a response.

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"There's been tons of questions over this. When the governor went out and did what he did, my phone started ringing," said the Republican attorney general, who regularly clashes with the Democratic governor.

The Louisiana Department of Health decided to use the emergency approach to retain the managed-care companies for 23 months beyond their current deals' expiration date after House Republicans on the Legislature's joint budget committee twice blocked the contract extensions. The lawmakers raised concerns about the price tags of the deals and oversight of the spending.

The Edwards administration is relying on a state law that allows for emergency contracting when an imminent threat to public health, welfare or safety exists. Edwards' lawyer Matthew Block said he's confident the looming Jan. 31 expiration of the managed-care deals meets the criteria of an emergency, because it could threaten people with the loss of access to health care.

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"If you're a family member of a child who is in need of medical care and you're unable to get those services … I think that very clearly would be an emergency for that family," Block said. "The Medicaid program would be in chaos on Feb. 1 if these contracts are not in place."

Sen. Jack Donahue, a Republican from Mandeville who crafted the request to Landry, doesn't believe Edwards can legally use the maneuver to sidestep lawmakers.

"I just don't want the legislative process bypassed. Poor preparation on your part doesn't create an emergency on my part," Donahue said. "Everything can eventually be an emergency under that thought process."

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Donahue, along with the other senators on the joint budget committee, voted for the contract extensions, though he said he had problems with the health department's handling of the deals. He said Edwards should be trying to win legislative support.

"What I'd like to see is the governor sit down with the House members who have concerns and put some language in there that makes them feel comfortable," he said.

Block replied that he has not heard suggestions for additional contract items sought by House GOP lawmakers since they last rejected the extensions. He said the latest version of the proposed managed-care deals have added language to clearly spell out the legislative auditor's authority to monitor the spending, as requested.

The Edwards administration has said it is willing to bring the contracts up for a third vote before the joint budget committee next week, if lawmakers are interested in hearing the deals again. But Block said if the upcoming meeting is unsuccessful in passing the deals, the health department will continue with the contracts outside of legislative approval.

Emergency contracting rules describe an emergency as something that may happen "by reason of floods, epidemics, riots, equipment failures" or other reasons that could create an immediate need for certain supplies or services.

The governor's office released a list of six contracts enacted by agencies this year through the emergency process that provided services to translate education department documents into Braille and other languages; continued ultrasound services for prisoners; and financed drinking water testing. Block said the emergency contracting method has been used "when it would be impossible for the normal procurement process to play out."

-By Melinda Deslatte, Associated Press 

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